As much as people claim to value honesty, sometimes you have to ask yourself if anyone on this earth is completely honest. And if no one on the planet is completely honest, then what is “wrong” with lying? People around the world face the same choice on a daily basis as to whether to tell the truth or bend the truth in order to avoid embarrassment, anger, or, perhaps, in order to gain social esteem. In fact, some cultures embrace bold-face lies or skirting the truth. It is estimated that we face these choices around a hundred times on any given day; with the result being to give in and tell a little white lie just to save face regarding an incident that happened, or an incident that didn’t happen. Maybe you have heard the phrase “fake it till you make it” or “learn how to play the game”? So, the question becomes, is there any good in telling a lie or lying?
Lying has in and of itself become a form of art. It is in our human nature to tell a “little one” almost without thinking about it. There was a study by a professor at the University of Massachusetts where he secretly videotaped several students while they stopped and talked to strangers on campus. Later on, the professor allowed the students to watch the videotape and the students admitted that they told an average of three lies for every ten minutes of actual conversation! That number may be a little low since it could very well be another lie. Could it be we are so good at lying that we lie about lying?
Another element in the analysis of lying, is the existence of different cultural approaches to “telling the truth”. In the global economy some of these differences are becoming more apparent. Cultures across the world have varying approaches to truths and disclosures in interpersonal relationships, business relationships, advertising, and ways of gaining social esteem.
The questions this article poses is why do we lie? What are the the psychological benefits of lying? What are the psychological benefits of telling the truth?
To start, we often lie out of fear of the consequences of telling the truth. There is an old saying that the truth hurts. You have probably heard the phrase “you can’t handle the truth”. Sometimes we lie because we might lose a business deal which means a potential for loss of income. Other times we lie to protect someone’s feelings. One example of the latter is when a waiter asks you how your food was. It may have been terrible but you say “it was fine” just to make the server feel good. We also don’t want to sound rude if the food was not so great.
What are the negative consequences of this type of lying?
For starters, lying to someone we are close to just to avoid hurting them actually hurts them even more as they will eventually discover that we lied to them (or will they This is the gamble one takes when lying). When the lie is discover it will make it harder to restore trust in the relationship. As anyone knows, once the trust leaves a relationship it is hard, and sometimes impossible, to get it back.
As in the example with the waiter, lying about our food being good often prompts diners to begrudgingly tip more than originally intended out of guilt for lying to the server. How could this possibly be? Well, researchers in a survey made the discovery that as many as 85% of those who dine out tell little white lies to not hurt the feelings of the waiter or to avoid coming off rude. This same percentage (85%) then overcompensates for the lying by leaving a much larger tip than they would have otherwise. Of course in the case of a relationship like this, the waiter may not mind the extra tip since he may not know the restaurant patron very well. In this regard the only negative consequence of lying falls on the consumer who told the lie in the first place.
Studies regarding the physiological effects of lying are somewhat sparse, however, lying is thought to trigger the release of stress hormones. This release will increase heart rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, stress reduces your number of infection-fighting white blood cells, and over the years, could cause problems to grow exponentially.
Others opine the biggest pitfall of telling even the smallest of lies to be the extra effort it takes to keep up with the lies. In many circumstances, even a little white lie never stops at just one. If you lie at work or in a relationship after a while you will find it difficult to keep up with the lies. The end result is you finally get caught in a lie and the truth eventually comes out in the open.
In short, it is a lot less stressful to just strive for honesty and be strong enough to face the consequences. After all, it is not worth the damaged relationship as the results of being caught in a lie will be a lot more painful than the hurt you spared the person in not telling the truth in the first place.
Also, when you lie you have to work hard to come up with something that is even remotely believable and then work even harder at convincing yourself of the truth of the lie you are about to tell. This is the secret to how lie detectors work. The famous polygraph machine cannot actually tell if someone is lying or not; what it can read is the excess stress that a person undergoes when they are trying to avoid telling the truth which usually is a dead giveaway that they are not being honest.
Granted, there may be relatively few times in life when lying is necessary but these are few and far between in most cases. If it will assure someone of their safety because the truth actually puts someone’s life in danger, then it might be best to lie. It just depends on who you are lying to. Other times lying may be necessary to help someone. For example, if you let someone use your address so they can sell plasma for a little money to help pay for their mobile phone bill which will help them get a job and get back on their feet.
There are also a couple of neutral cases of lying; for example when a man’s wife asks if she is fat. Every man knows this is an open-ended question with no answer. Don’t fall for it. Another example is when a high school kid, or even an adult, gets asked if they are still a virgin. We will not go any further on this one – again, cultural differences will play in the degree of necessity of the lie.
To sum it up, it is a whole lot healthier to just tell the truth. There is another old saying that “the truth will set you free”. Yes, the truth often hurts but even this is not as bad as the damaged relationships that often result from being caught in a lie. One lie almost always leads to another and the pressure just continues to build until eventually you break down and either tell the truth or you get caught in a lie anyway. While there may be an exceptional time when lying actually does benefit someone in a positive way, lying solely to preserve your own ego is never necessary and the consequences of this type of lying is always going to turn out negative.